Looking back on 2018

I love year-in-review posts. They’re often a tad more personal than the usual ELT blog post in that they touch on areas of life outside of the classroom, which I always enjoy reading about. I’ve been following some folks’ blogs long enough to feel as if I know them in real life, so it’s great to read about their successes and challenges, and how they overcame/are dealing with the latter. Year-in-review posts can also be a useful reminder of things people have previously shared on their blogs or social media, but with the flood of news out there it’s often easy to overlook/forget bits of pertinent information.   

The idea for this post came from Sandy Millin’s blog, where you can also read which other posts inspired hers. I’ve adapted it a bit because a) it’s not December anymore, b) if I wrote about 31 points this would be completed in June, and c) I have nothing to say for some of the prompts, so I left them out.   

Your favorite activity from 2018

I haven’t taught offline much for quite a while now, so I’m going to go with an online activity which isn’t from 2018 but remains one of my favorites: the anonymous peer review. I wrote about how it’s set up in my course and which tweaks have been added over time in this post.

Most memorable story from 2018

This would have to be my visit to Athens in the spring. I hadn’t been to Greece before and it was great to have the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks there. One thing I’ll definitely remember the visit by is meeting one of my PLN in person – thanks for everything, Christina! Proof that the ELT world is indeed a small one is that in the brief time while I was in Athens the sixth BELTA Day took place and Christina was a presenter, so I was able to reminisce about the lovely BELTA people and previous BELTA Days without – hopefully – sounding too nostalgic.

the moment in 2018 you felt proud as a teacher

This isn’t classroom related but I’ve been adjuncting at the University of Zagreb since 2008, and a couple of years into this I was expected to qualify for the title of lecturer, which is the educational title lowest on the scale in the Croatian tertiary education system. Once you qualify, you hold this position for five years, after which you can go for re-election or try to move a step up the ladder. Last year I qualified for senior lecturer, which sounds grander than it is (especially if you’re still adjuncting – I expect I could soon be setting some kind of record), but was a bit of a proud moment nevertheless.

A new idea you implemented in 2018

The idea isn’t new but I finally got around to trying out badges. I’m still planning to create two more – for which I’ve more or less defined the criteria – by the end of the semester.

Your favorite teaching aid in 2018

A reliable board marker that doesn’t die on me halfway through the class.

The moment in 2018 when you felt proud of your student

There was definitely more than a single moment/student, but one that readily comes to mind is when a wonderful, very motivated and hardworking student – who recently graduated (or is almost there) – got a job at a place that inspires job satisfaction and looks good on their CV.

Your favorite teaching website in 2018

I don’t really have one. My favorite resource for everything teaching related is Twitter and I follow up on interesting info I come across by clicking through to whatever resources the person tweeting has linked to. These are, however, far more often blogs than websites like Edutopia or Teaching English. A quick look at some of my recent retweets suggests that I may have visited the EdSurge HigherEd website pretty often and I think this is explained by the fact that they cover topics of relevance both to my non-teaching (but still in the education sector) job and tertiary ed topics.

The person who inspired you in 2018

Some of my coworkers. I won’t single anyone out just in case someone from work ever reads this, primarily because many people there have been inspirational in a number of small (and not-so-small) ways and I don’t want anyone to feel left out.

Your greatest challenge in 2018

Overcoming impostor syndrome. Changing professions/working environments after such a long time did leave me with nagging doubts as to whether I was doing a good job, even if objectively I knew I was coping at least satisfactorily. Before I always used to be the one who had been doing that job forever when a new coworker came along and it was a challenge to be on the other side.  

Your strongest point as a teacher

Modesty dictates I say my students should be asked about this. But now I think about it, this really is a tough question. I’ve been teaching for 20 years so there are probably few things I’m hopeless at (apart from teaching YLs and teens, which I’ve never done). I hope I’m good at making students feel confident about their language skills. Let’s put it this way: I would be happy if that was how students felt.    

Your favorite teaching application in 2018

Definitely H5P, which I’ve written about here and here. I’m planning to try out more of their content types this year.  

The best CPD book you read in 2018

Readers of this blog know I occasionally do translations, so I think I’m justified in choosing this as a CPD book: Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David Bellos.

Your greatest frustration in 2018

Probably the fact that I wasn’t sure if my non-teaching contract was going to be extended, as a result of which I thought it would be prudent to hang on to any work I’d been doing previously. This included proofreading/language-editing/translation work and online teaching, so I worked almost every evening and weekend for the first half of the year. Luckily, the contract was eventually extended.

One thing you want non-teachers to understand

That it’s normal for teachers to be on the lookout for things that will make their job easier. People in other professions do this too. It’s great that there are teachers who enjoy being immersed in PD opportunities 24/7 and who will always take the more challenging route, but that works for them and shouldn’t be seen as the norm every teacher should necessarily aspire to.

Your most memorable teaching experiment in 2018

This has got to be the workshop on academic writing I delivered for my coworkers. I asked for my PLN for ideas and input in this post and would like to thank everyone once again: I thought the workshop turned out pretty well. There was some talk at the time that we might have more frequent sessions for those interested, and not only on academic writing but other aspects of language, but that hasn’t yet come to pass, primarily because I haven’t done anything about it. I didn’t want to commit to something I might not have the time and energy to do properly.

your personal success in 2018

I’m not sure if the “personal” is meant to stress that I see this as a success only I contributed to/brought about (as opposed to being part of a team), but I’m going to interpret it as also referring to team successes. I wrote about being involved in AMORES project here and here. The project ended three years ago but in 2018 articles describing project results were published in two books. It’s great to see the project living on!

One thing you plan to change in 2019

If I were the least bit confident that there was a chance of this actually happening, I’d say I’d do more exercise. 

Your greatest discovery in 2018

I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but you know the timer app on your phone? Oh, okay, I know, Google Keep. ILovePDF? Nope, nothing revolutionary.

Thank you for reading! I hope it’s not too late to wish you a great year ahead and please let me know if you’ve done a year-in-review post – I’d love to read it!

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30 questions (about 2015)

I remember when chain emails with questions like these were making the rounds in, like, 2001. They were an excellent way of procrastinating then, too. My favorite question was (no idea why) – if you looked under your bed right now, what would you find? A whole lotta dust, in case you were wondering. 😛

I came across this set of questions in posts by Rachel Daw and Sandy Millin (see the original post in which Anna Loseva explains how she came up with the questions here), and thought I’d give them a go, sticking to work-related stuff for the most part.

It’ll make more sense if you pretend this was posted in 2015, obviously.

  1. The best moment of the year.

When I’m pushed to make a decision, I keep thinking, surely there’s something you’ve forgotten. So this most likely wasn’t THE best moment, but it was a proud and happy one nevertheless: a student of mine was the only one from Zagreb University to be awarded a grant to spend a semester at York University in Canada. I like to think the reference I wrote helped at least a bit.

  1. What inspired me the most this year?

The way my assistant mods contributed to our online course. I did a post on that here.

  1. The major news of this year.

The AMORES project is officially over!! (If you can find two consecutive exclamation marks anywhere else on this blog, I’ll eat my pom-pom beanie. Apparently the hat of the year, if you’ll excuse the digression.) So, yes, two years of pretty hard work have come to an end and if you would like to help our stats by taking two minutes to download a copy of the methodology here, that would be lovely, thank you very much. It’s a bit of a drag that you have to register, but we will not abuse your data and spam you – promise. For people who like pics, we have loads over on Flickr.

  1. Anthem of the year.

I’m at the stage where something could be playing over and over for a whole year and I can’t be bothered to check what it’s called or who sings it. I think the next stage is when I start saying, “They just don’t know how to make music anymore”, and those under 20 start giving me pitying looks.

  1. The most important people in my life.

Have very little to do with ELT.

  1. What was most difficult for me to do this year?

One thing was probably deciding whether to go to the TESOL France Colloquium in Paris, held a week after November 13. I was supposed to give a talk, so I felt bad about cancelling. In the end I went and was glad I did.

  1. What color was this year?

All the colors in the Fotor for Android effects range.

  1. Which event of the year would I choose to remember forever?

The BELTA Day weekend. Apart from the professional value, I really enjoyed the dinners on Friday and Saturday with the speakers and the board. And helping prepare the venue was stressful but fun. I think there is a pic of me somewhere sweeping the floor. With a broom. Those who know me well will appreciate the momentousness of the occasion.

  1. Which word did I use most often?

Probably AMORES. Or maybe please. As in, “Please remember to check the deadline for unit X”. One of the perks of online teaching.

  1. My most ridiculous purchase of the year.

That would be ridiculous as in disproportionately expensive? Okay, I paid way too much for the train tickets to Paris (see #6), considering I could’ve booked months in advance and paid a fraction of the price.

  1. I shouldn’t have experimented with …

Taking on a second project that required a serious time commitment while the first one wasn’t over.

  1. This year was wonderful because

The year was good. If it were a student it would get a C. Parts would get an A or a B.

  1. Which inner problem did I solve successfully?

Pass.

  1. Who did I hug at night?

And pass.

  1. Whose wedding did I have fun at?

Luckily, no weddings this year. I find them incredibly tedious, and while I’m happy if the person who’s getting married is happy, I would rather just see the pics. Oh, yeah, a friend from high school got married this year – lovely pics on Facebook!

  1. What was my average salary this year?

Amazingly, pretty much the same as it was for the last three years of running my own school. Which just means it’s a good thing I’m not doing that anymore.

  1. Did I have a conversation that turned everything upside down in my head?

Nope. I can feel I’m going to be flippant, so just nope.

  1. What new project did I start in 2015?

See #11. It was an interesting project, too – materials writing. I had to pull out.

  1. If I could become a superhero for just one day, what would I do?

Revolutionize the Croatian audiobook market. Make people realize you don’t have to be visually impaired to enjoy audiobooks. I’d love to be able to listen to the occasional recording by a Croatian author.

  1. What am I dreaming about now?

I have this idea of living back home at some point, and home being a good place to live. I’m not very demanding about this: a good place to live is a place where both of us have decent jobs, and don’t have to worry about being laid off or the business failing.

  1. What do I consider to be my most important achievement?

Probably doing a good enough job on AMORES to know that I could work in a non-teaching role full-time.

  1. This year until this moment in one sentence.

Oh, I’m crap at this sort of thing. Knowing your weaknesses is a good thing, right? Pass.

  1. The latest message I’ve sent.

Knowing there’s no way I’d answer all these questions in one go and post them, I saved this one for last. It’s not very specific, is it? Do they mean text message? Viber? Twitter? Okay, the last one was yesterday on Twitter, and I said something like, “Thanks very much for the blog post, please send it to X and myself”.

  1. A quote that is most suitable for my year.

Too #22, sorry. But I will recommend two books. They could be read at any time; their only connection to 2015 is that I read them this year (when I say read, I mean got them on Audible). “On Immunity: An Inoculation” by Eula Biss, and “Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery”, by Henry Marsh.

  1. Did I achieve everything I’d planned for this year?

I guess I should’ve kept a list of the things I’d planned, only I’m not a fan of planning. There was this MOOC I started once (not this year) where they said we should “enjoy the serendipity of the random encounter”, which I liked the sound of. There were a couple of things that went to plan – one was sending in a speaker proposal for TESOL France. I think I also commented more on other people’s blogs, and I’m glad I did – I got a lot out of that, actually (that’s material for a whole other post).

  1. How many new friends did I make this year?

Ha, is that Facebook friends?! Seriously, I have a problem with this term. You saw me once – or never saw me at all – and now we’re friends? I’ve been told this is a ridiculous way to feel and, yes, friends is probably simpler and visually tidier than “People I know on Facebook” or something.

  1. Who did I help this year?

My students, the AMORES project team, the BELTA board. These I know about.

  1. Where did I travel?

I mostly went back and forth between Belgium and Croatia. There were a couple of days I spent in the UK attending an AMORES workshop (Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham), and, of course, the trip to Paris for the TESOL France Colloquium.

Bonding activity at Emma Bridgewater during the UK workshop.
Bonding activity at Emma Bridgewater during the UK workshop.
  1. Which projects am I putting off till next year?

See #25. There’s nothing in particular. Okay, one thing comes to mind. Despite my audiobook obsession, I’ve continued to buy paperbacks. So I was thinking I should take a break from audiobooks and go back to reading, at least to get through the books that have piled up over last year.

  1. What do I want to achieve next year?

Possibly write something that’ll make it into a publication with a wider readership. We’ll see.

Expectations satisfied?

Around this time last year Hana Tichá took a small step for her, but a giant leap for the ELT blogging community. She tagged me.

If you feel the above claim is a tad exaggerated – fine, I was looking for an effective opening. But it _is_ rather better than saying, “This post is going to be about [insert topic here] ”, don’t you think?

I’m very much the type of person who likes poking her nose into other people’s makeup bags, reading lists, family albums, music collections…you get the idea. On the hunch that there may be some kindred spirits out there, a bit voyeuristically inclined where ELT blogging is concerned, I thought I would take a look back and see if there’s any insightful conclusion I can draw at the end of my first year. Although I’m not at all sure that there will be, so no promises.

Looking back at 2014
Looking back at 2014

My first post was Eleven, which I think was a great way to start, as everybody and his sister was doing it and it was quite clearly not meant to be a post replete with significant contributions to the collective wisdom of language teaching. As subsequent posts naturally turned out to be. 🙂 I set myself some homework in that post, listing a couple of topics that I thought I wanted to write about at the time. This seemed to be prudent because I have found that am more likely to stick with something if I commit to it publicly. Looking at these topics now, I see that I managed to address – sort of – a grand total of two: #1 in Some perks of teaching online, and #10 in Customer satisfaction. It turns out that I’m not at all concerned about that; I might come back to the others at some point. Or not.

In February I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that one of the chief reasons that there _is_ an online ELT community – the pretty amazing Mike Griffin, whose name I shall not misspell on my blog twice – included my blog in his post …In with the new. I thought that was really optimistic of him as the blog only consisted of three posts at the time. So I decided that I would try and post twice a month. However, with a total of 14 posts in 2014 even I, mathematically challenged as I am, can see that I’ve fallen a bit short of the mark. Turns out I’m not concerned about that either; in fact, I think I did pretty well. You see, the thing is, I take quite a long time to get started, and then even longer to finish a post off. No hitting publish for me unless I’ve quadruple-checked everything, slept on it, quadruple-checked again…Yes, I realize that’s sort of not the point of a blog, but there _is_ an upside: generally, I can go back and reread my posts without too much cringing. At least that’s what I tell myself. I should probably emphasize that I cringe at the smallest details. In my writing, I hasten to add, not other people’s. I do admire people who can dash off a post, hit publish, sit back and relax. How do you do it? Any practical suggestions?

Given the above, it’s probably ironic that the post which got the most views was the one I wrote with the greatest degree of spontaneity – The fear of being unemployable. I think I only let it sit a day before I posted it, and I didn’t edit much. People still occasionally read it now, which is amazing. Obviously it’s not that I think they shouldn’t or that it’s bad, but as mine is still a fledgling blog, a part of me is always filled with mild disbelief that there are people outside of my immediate family who would want to read it. In fact, it appears the blog has had views from 53 countries – an astounding number to me. Oh God. It has just occurred to me they could be mostly bots or something! Well, if they are, most of them come from Croatia, which is strangely comforting. Seriously, though, if these are real Croatians, that’s also great, because in the first couple of months I got very few views from Croatia.

Following on from this, most people seem to have found the blog from Twitter, which does not surprise me in the least. I’ve only recently (and reluctantly) joined another major social network, and frankly, the deal there seems to be mostly about personality quizzes, baby pictures and cat videos. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, you understand. I do love a good cat video. I also confess to being extremely disappointed with the lack of interesting search engine terms that brought people to the blog. All year I’ve been coming across people tweeting some truly bizarre – and cool – terms that brought visitors to their blogs, but the best that I’ve got is “apple shaped wordle”. See what I mean?

Croatians may have been my most frequent viewers, but they were a little reluctant to like posts or comment on them. That actually _is_ pretty much what you’d expect from Croatian readers, English teachers or not. They’re very restrained. Unless they’re commenting on something to do with Croatian politics or the economy, when they have been known to turn abusive. With good reason, I might add, but this is probably not the place… Where was I? Oh yes, likes and comments. Of course, you’re not supposed to act as if you give two hoots if anyone reads what you’ve written, because you’re writing for yourself, to help you reflect, and if someone reads it, cool, and if they don’t, that’s cool too – only the former is way cooler. I would therefore like to thank everyone who has read, liked, commented on or shared any of my posts, or followed the blog. At the risk of leaving someone out – because I have no stats on this – I would especially like to thank three ladies who often seemed to react to what I wrote and whose support has meant a lot: Hana Tichá, Ljiljana Havran and Zhenya Polosatova. I don’t know how much, if anything, I should read into the relative geographical proximity of the countries we come from? Probably not much though, if the restrained attitude of Croatians is anything to go by.

I’ve quite often thought about another person in connection with my blog this year – a teacher who goes by the name of Kate Springcait. She was the only person (to my knowledge) to take up the challenge in my first post – read her response here – and I have since noticed that professional development is very important to her. I have followed what Kate has been up to with great interest. I have often thought how I’ve been lucky to work with many excellent teachers at Octopus, some of them experienced, some less so, but I don’t recall anyone who approached PD with quite the same zeal – at least not that I ever knew about. Kate is exactly the kind of teacher that I would hire if I were still in a position to do so, and if people willing to pay for language courses in Croatia were not about as difficult to find as the Yangtze finless porpoise.

Final thoughts

When I set up the blog, I wasn’t sure what to call it. I wanted the name to be short and easy to memorize. I also didn’t want to use my name. After what was probably an agonizing amount of thinking (shocking, I know), I settled on a name that satisfied all three requirements, and described why I chose it on the about page.

It should have been absolutely clear from the start that the blog would not be about Octopus. And it hasn’t – not a single post. There are references to the school in several posts, and there is even a post about the school I worked for before joining Octopus. But the posts actually do reflect the name of the blog. No surprises there, you’d think; what is this about?

Strangely though, I now realize I _am_ mildly surprised by this. It’s a bit as if I didn’t quite expect I would be able to move on and am watching myself from the outside, thinking in bemusement – now how did that happen? I’m not sure what to do with this bit of insight though, if anything.

All in all, blogging – if posting once a month qualifies as blogging – has been very enjoyable and definitely worth the time invested. Reading other people’s posts and (sometimes) commenting on them too, but that’s another story. Right now I feel very sure that’s a post I’ll be writing quite soon…but no promises.

Thank you for reading and I wish you all the very best in 2015. I very much hope to see you around!